It’s only one day after President Barack Obama’s re-election, and some groups are already demanding action. In a new report by left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio, the group says the expiration of federal unemployment benefits could leave Ohio’s jobless stranded.
“If Congress doesn’t renew federal benefits, the impact in Ohio will be immediate and negative,” said Zach Schiller, research director for Policy Matters, in a statement. “Not only will the unemployed suffer, but the state economy will take a hit as well.”
If Congress and the president do not act by Dec. 29, funding for emergency unemployment benefits approved in mid-2008 will be cut off. Nearly 50,000 Ohioans have been getting federally supported benefits every week, and “the bulk” will be cut off if funding expires, according to the report.
Even without expiration, Ohio is already in a bad spot when it comes to insuring the jobless. Altogether, the number of unemployed receiving benefits is lower than the national average, according to the report. Since 2001, Ohio’s unemployed have received fewer benefits than the national average. In 2011, 63 percent of Ohioans who filed claims received payments, while 71 percent of claimants all around the country got benefits.
The state program seems to be particularly weak. In 2012, the amount of unemployed Ohioans getting state benefits was 22 percent, while the national share was about 26 percent. The report shows getting fewer benefits in Ohio has been the majority trend for at least 29 years.
One statistic that drives the report’s point home is the fact the state only provides up to 26 weeks of benefits, yet the average unemployed Ohioan is jobless for 33.5 weeks, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means the average unemployed Ohioan would be left without unemployment benefits for 7.5 weeks if the federal program did not exist.
And it’s not like the benefits offer an easy ride. The benefits “are hardly magnificent,” says Schiller. “Three-hundred dollars a week, you’re not going to take a jet to Tahiti and spend time on the beach with that kind of money. So, in fact, what people do with their $300 a week is spend it on necessities and in their communities.”
Schiller says the trend is poor economics, and the federal and state government should make sure Ohio’s unemployed continue getting benefits they need.
“When I was in high school, we heard of unemployment insurance as what was called an ‘automatic stabilizer,'" he says. “When the economy went into a dive, you would see increases in unemployment insurance that would automatically help stabilize the economy. This was seen by economists as a very useful and important thing that would reduce the depth of recessions.”
Schiller’s claim is backed by economic data. In a May 2012
report, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the nonpartisan agency
that measures the effect of federal budgets and policy, said the repeal
of extended emergency unemployment benefits would lower spending by $26
billion in the 2013 fiscal year. It would also increase the deficit,
according to the CBO report: “The weakening of the economy that will
result from that fiscal restraint will lower taxable incomes and,
therefore, revenues, and it will increase spending in some categories —
for unemployment insurance, for instance.”
Unemployment compensation also kept 2.3 million people from falling into poverty in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
President Barack Obama won over Mitt Romney in what can only be called an electoral college landslide. He won every single “battleground state” on CNN’s electoral map with the current exception of Florida, although the current lead and remaining demographics to be counted will likely tilt Florida to Obama. Despite the insistence of conservatives and mainstream media pundits, models like FiveThirtyEight that predicted a big Obama win were entirely accurate.
In the U.S. Senate race, Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown also handily won over Republican challenger Josh Mandel. CityBeat covered the policy and campaign differences between the two candidates in coverage of the first, second and third debate and a cover story.
For the First U.S. Congressional District, Republican incumbent Steve Chabot beat Democratic challenger Jeff Sinnard.
The big takeaway from election night at a federal level: Billions of dollars spent on campaigns later, the U.S. House of Representatives remains in Republican hands, the U.S. Senate remains in Democratic hands and the White House remains in Democratic hands. In other words, billions of dollars were spent to change almost nothing.
At the state level, Issue 1, which called for a constitutional convention, lost. But Issue 2, which was an attempt at redistricting reform, lost as well. CityBeat covered the rise and details of Issue 2 in a story and commentary.
In the state’s legislature races, incumbents swept. Republican Bill Seitz beat Democrat Richard Luken for the eighth district of the Ohio Senate. Republican Peter Stautberg beat Democrat Nathan Wissman for the 27th district of the Ohio House. Democrat Connie Pillich beat Republican Mike Wilson for the 28th district of the Ohio House. Republican Louis Blessing beat Democrat Hubert Brown for the 29th district of the Ohio House. Republican Lou Terhar beat Democrat Steven Newsome for the 30th district of the Ohio House. Democrat Denise Driehaus beat Republican Michael Gabbard for the 31st district of the Ohio House. Democrat Dale Mallory beat Republican Ron Mosby for the 32nd district of the Ohio House. Democrat Alicia Reece beat Republican Tom Bryan for the 33rd district of the Ohio House.
For the Ohio Supreme Court, Republican Terrence O’Donnell kept his seat against Mike Skindell. But Democrat William O’Neill beat Republican incumbent Robert Cupp, and Republican Sharon Kennedy beat Democratic incumbent Yvette Brown.
At the local level, Issue 4, which gives City Council four-year terms, was approved. Issue 42, which renewed a tax levy for Cincinnati Public Schools, passed. Issue 50, a tax levy for senior health services, was approved. Issue 51, a tax levy for mental health services, was approved.
In Hamilton County offices, things got a bit more blue overall. Republican incumbent Joe Deters beat Democrat Janaya Trotter for the prosecutor attorney’s office. Democrat Pam Thomas beat Republican incumbent Tracy Winkler for the office of the clerk of the court of common pleas. Democrat Jim Neil beat Republican Sean Donovan for the sheriff's office. Democratic incumbent Wayne Coates beat Republican Wayne Lippert for the county recorder's office. Republican incumbent Robert Goering barely beat Democrat Jeff Cramerding for the county treasurer's office. Democratic incumbent Lakshmi Sammarco beat Republican Pete Kambelos for the county coroner's office.
In the lower courts, Republican incumbent Pat Fischer beat Democrat Martha Good and Republican Pat DeWine beat Democrat Bruce Whitman for the First District Court of Appeals. Democratic incumbent Nadine Allen and Republican Leslie Ghiz beat Democrat Stephen Black and Republican Heather Russel for the court of common pleas.
In other states, gay marriage and marijuana were legalized. Minnesota voted against a same-sex marriage ban. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin also became the first openly gay candidate to win election for the U.S. Senate. Overall, the night was a big win for progressives all around the country.
The Cincinnati Enquirer did not have a smooth Election Day. The Enquirer mistakenly published false early voting results, and the fake results were picked up by a conservative news reporting website. Providing voting results before polls close is typically frowned upon in media circles to avoid discouraging voters with potentially disappointing numbers.
Ohio could be short on physicians in the future. By 2020, the state might need to fill a gap of just more than 5,000 physicians, according to Dayton Daily News.
In September, U.S. employers posted the fewest job openings in five months, according to U.S. Department of Labor. On the bright side, layoffs dropped as well.
Cincinnati-based Macy’s beat third quarter estimates and reported strong earnings.
CyrusOne, a Cincinnati Bell subsidiary, bought a downtown building for $18 million. The purchase is part of CyrusOne’s proposed spin-off from Cincinnati Bell.
Cincinnati-based Kroger is looking good for investors. One money management firm told clients Kroger stock is “an exceptional value.”
U.S. hospitals are on track for 124 mass layoffs in 2012, which could cost 8,700 jobs by the end of the year. However, jobs numbers are still up overall in hospitals.
The Republican head of Hamilton County’s governing board outlined his own alternative for a 2013 budget on Monday, proposing an austere path forward after rejecting other budgets that would raise some taxes.
Board of County Commissioners President Greg Hartmann said his proposed budget would reduce the size of county government by 30 percent, compared to five years ago. He said he wants the board to approve a budget before the Thanksgiving holiday.
“It is a budget of austerity and investment in growth,” Hartmann said.
He added, “It is a structurally-balanced budget,” that doesn’t use one-time sources of cash to make up for shortfalls.
Hartmann’s proposed budget would cut the Sheriff’s Department by about $57,000 or 0.01 percent from 2012 levels; reduce the coroner’s appropriation by 3 percent or $99,000; cut economic development by 5 percent; cut 5 percent from adult criminal courts; and reduce subsidies to the Communications Center and Sheriff’s Department.
Hartmann stressed that it is important to fund public safety as fully as allowable in these tough economic times, as economic development is not possible without it.
Hartmann’s budget comes after commissioners rejected three proposals from County Administrator Christian Sigman.
Sigman proposed $18.7 million in cuts, which Hartmann’s budget maintained in addition to his own reductions.
Two of Sigman’s proposals involved increasing the sales tax to balance the budget.
Fellow Republican Commissioner Chris Monzel said he supports Hartmann’s efforts at austerity, but is working on his own budget proposal as well.
“An austerity budget is the way we’re going to go, and it’s going to be hard,” he said.
The board’s sole Democrat, Todd Portune, said he too is working on his own proposal that he had hoped to have prepared for the Nov. 5 meeting, but was still making tweaks and hoped to present it by the following week.
He hinted that the results of Election Day might impact how he crafts his budget proposal.
“Tomorrow’s results may have an impact as well on the budget that I present as it relates as well to those who are running for county seats,” Portune said. “We have in some cases two very different visions in terms of solutions.”
Both he and Hartmann are up for re-election. Portune is running against Libertarian Bob Frey. Neither candidate has a major party challenger.
Hartmann, who has actively campaigned for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, had a joke in response to Portune’s waiting for the election results.
“I thought you were predicting Romney’s win would make the economy go on the right track,” Hartmann cracked. “I was thinking that’s what you were going to go with.”
Just two days before the general election, President Barack Obama made his case to 13,500 people packed into the University of Cincinnati’s Fifth Third Arena and 2,000 in an overflow room.
Obama cast the race in comparisons to the previous two presidents, comparing his policies with those of Bill Clinton and equating Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s plans with those of George W. Bush.
“So stay with me then,” Obama said. “We’ve got ideas that work, and we’ve got ideas that don’t work, so the choice should be pretty clear.”
With less than 48 hours before polls open on Election Day, a Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll had Obama and his Republican challenger locked in a statistical dead heat. However the same poll showed Obama with a slight edge in Ohio, up 48 percent to Romney’s 44 percent.
Obama touted his first-term accomplishments, including ending the war in Iraq; ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the policy preventing homosexuals from serving openly in the military; and overhauling the country’s health care system.
“It’s not just about policy, it’s about trust. Who do you trust?” the president asked, flanked by a sea of supporters waving blue “Forward” signs.
“Look, Ohio, you know me by now. You may not agree with every decision I’ve made, Michelle doesn’t always agree with me. You may be frustrated with the pace of change … but I say what I mean and I mean what I say.”
Nonpartisan political fact-checker PolitiFact on Nov. 3 took a look at Obama’s record on keeping his campaign promises from 2008. The group rated 38 percent as Kept, 16 percent Compromised and 17 percent Broken.
Twice during his speech the president was interrupted by audience members shouting from the stands.
The first was a man on the balcony level of the arena interrupted, shouting anti-abortion slogans and waving a sign showing mutilated fetuses before being dragged out by about five law enforcement officers. Both were drowned out by supporters.
Music legend Stevie Wonder opened the rally for Obama, playing a number of his hits, opening up “Superstition” with a refrain of “on the right track, can’t go back.”
Wonder discussed abortion policy between songs and urged Ohioans who had not already voted to do so either early on Monday or Election Day.
So far, 28 percent of Ohio voters have already cast their ballots. CNN reports that those votes favor Obama 63/35, according to public polling.
Meanwhile on Sunday, Romney campaigned before an estimated crowd of 25,000 in Pennsylvania, according to the Secret Service.
Political rallies always draw a number of the loyal opposition, and this late-evening appearance was no different. Only five people protested near the line to the arena, but what they lacked in number they attempted to make up for in message.
One large sign read “Obama: 666” and another “Obama is the Beast,” alluding to a character in the Christian Biblical book of Revelation.
A man who only identified himself as Brooks carried a large anti-abortion sign that showed pieces of a dismembered fetus.
“I’m here to stand up for the innocent blood that has been shed in this land to the tune of 56 million,” Brooks said. He said he was opposed to the politics of both major party presidential candidates.
“I pray for Barack Obama because his beliefs are of the Antichrist, just like Romney,” Brooks said.
Brooks said his message for those in line was for them to vote for Jesus — not on the ballot, but through their actions and through candidates that espoused Christian beliefs.
“Obama is not going to change things, Romney is not going to change things,” Brooks said. “In the last days there are many Christs, but not the Christ of the Bible. The Christ of the Bible is not for killing children, is not for homosexual marriage.”
In-person early voting is underway in Ohio. Find your nearest polling booth here.
The last debate for Ohio’s U.S. Senate seat took place last
night. The debate between Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown and
Republican challenger Josh Mandel mostly covered old ground, but the
candidates did draw contrasting details on keeping Social Security
solvent. Mandel favored raising the eligibility age on younger generations, while Brown favored
raising the payroll tax cap. Currently, Brown leads
Mandel in aggregate polling by 5.2 points.
Mitt Romney was in town yesterday. In his speech, he
criticized the president’s policies and campaign rhetoric and touted
support for small businesses. The Cincinnati visit was the first stop of
a two-day tour of Ohio, which is the most important swing state in the
presidential race. But senior Republican officials are apparently
worried Romney has leveled off in the state, which could cost Romney the
Electoral College and election. President Barack Obama is
expected to visit Cincinnati on Halloween. In aggregate polling, Obama
is ahead in Ohio by 2.1 points, and Romney is up nationally by 0.9
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio says the
use of seclusion rooms in Ohio schools should be phased out
by 2016. The Ohio Department of Education and Ohio Board of Education
are currently taking feedback on a new policy draft that says schools
can only use seclusion rooms in cases of “immediate threat of physical
harm,” but the policy only affects traditional public schools, not
charter schools, private schools or educational service centers.
Seclusion rooms are intended to restrain children who become violent,
but recent investigations found the rooms are used to punish children or
as a convenience for staff. Currently, Ohio has no state laws
overseeing seclusion rooms, and the Department of Education and Board of
Education provide little guidance and oversight regarding seclusion
The Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati and a City Council task force have a plan to make Cincinnati’s water infrastructure a little greener.
A study found Cincinnati hospitals are good with heart patients but not-so-good with knee surgery. The names of the hospitals that were looked at were not revealed in the study, however.
An economist at PNC Financial Services Group says 10,000 jobs will be added in Cincinnati in 2013.
Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble has new details about its effort to reduce costs and make operations more productive. The company announced a “productivity council” that will look at “the next round of productivity improvements.” The company also said it will reach 4,200 out of 5,700 job cuts by the end of October as part of a $10 billion restructuring program announced in February.
The world just got a little sadder. Chemicals in couches could be making people fatter.
On the bright side, we now know how to properly butcher and eat a triceratops.
Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown and Republican challenger Josh Mandel met once again Thursday night for a debate to see who is more qualified for Ohio’s U.S. Senate seat. The candidates were a bit less feisty in their final debate, but the substance behind their words was fairly similar to the past two debates.
Mandel spent a bit less time attacking Brown for “Washington speak,” and Brown spent a bit less time attacking Mandel for dishonesty. However, Mandel did spend a bit more time attacking Brown for being a “career politician,” and both candidates criticized each other for voting along party lines.
Some new details did emerge when Brown and Mandel discussed Social Security. Mandel clarified he would raise the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare for those around his age — 35 — and younger. To justify the raise, he said life expectancy has grown since those laws were first put into place. He also claimed, “If we maintain the status quo, which is the way of Washington, there will be no Medicare or Social Security.”
Brown responded by saying he wouldn’t raise the eligibility age or reduce benefits, but he would increase the payroll tax cap.
In the case of Mandel’s proposal, there is some important context missing. While it’s true life expectancy has increased in the U.S., it has not increased at the same level for everyone. A 2008 study by the Congressional Budget Office found life expectancy is lagging for low-income individuals, while it’s steadily rising for the wealthiest Americans. A 2006 study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology had similar findings. These studies show increases in the average life expectancy may not be reflective of what’s actually happening within the poor and even middle class. In other words, raising the eligibility age to match the rise in life expectancy could disproportionately hurt the lower classes.
There are also some holes in gauging the eligibility age for entitlement programs with a rise in the average life expectancy. Social Security was enacted in 1935. Between the law passing and 2007, the U.S. child mortality rate dropped about 3.3 percent per year for children between the ages of one and four, according to a study from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This large drop in child mortality rate could be exaggerating gains in life expectancy, which is an average that takes into account the age of deceased children.
Mandel’s implication that raising the eligibility age is the only way to keep Social Security solvent is also misleading. Currently, the payroll tax is set up so it only taxes the first $110,100 of everyone’s income. A Congressional Research Service study from 2010 found eliminating the cap would keep the Social Security Trust Funds solvent for the next 75 years. The downside is this would raise taxes for anyone making more than $110,100. Still, the fact eliminating the cap would extend the trust funds’ solvency shows there are other options, and it shows Brown’s idea of increasing the cap has some fiscal merit.
However, Mandel would not be able to take Brown’s approach because it would mean raising taxes, which Mandel vowed to not do under any circumstance when he signed lobbyist Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge.
For the final debate, Mandel and Brown followed similar paths as before and even recited some of the exact same lines. At this point, the candidates have painted clear contrasts. With three debates and a year of campaigning behind them, it’s now clear Brown is mostly the liberal, Democratic choice and Mandel is mostly the conservative, Republican choice.
As cities rush to solve major problems with water infrastructure, newer technologies are being touted by city agencies as cheaper, cleaner solutions. In two different local projects, the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSD) and a City Council task force are looking into green ways to solve the city’s water needs.
On Wednesday, CityBeat covered some of the benefits and downsides of green water infrastructure. According to the report reviewed Wednesday, green water infrastructure is cheaper and does create a boon of jobs, but it faces some funding and education problems. However, it was unclear how the green ideas would translate into Cincinnati.
Tony Parrott, executive director of MSD, says despite the challenges, green infrastructure is clearly the cheaper option. The organization is partnering with local organizations to adopt a series of new projects — among them, green roofs, rain gardens, wetlands — to meet a new federal mandate that requires MSD to reduce the amount of sewer overflow that makes it into local rivers and streams.
“That is a very costly mandate,” he says. “Our belief is that green infrastructure and sustainable infrastructure will allow us to achieve a lot of those objectives a lot cheaper than your conventional deep tunnel systems or other gray type of infrastructure.”
Of course, conventional — or “gray” — infrastructure still
has its place, but adopting a hybrid of green and gray infrastructure
or just green infrastructure in some areas was found to be cheaper in
MSD analyses, according to Parrott.
Plans are already being executed. On top of the smaller projects that slow the flow of storm water into sewer systems, MSD is also taking what Parrott calls a “large-scale approach to resurrect or daylight former streams and creeks that were buried over 150 years ago.” This approach will rely on the new waterways to redirect storm water so it doesn’t threaten to flood sewers and cause sewer overflow, Parrott says.
The programs are being approached in a “holistic way,” according to Parrott. MSD intends to refine and reiterate on what works as the programs develop. However, that comes with challenges when setting goals and asking for funding.
“We think that if you’re going to use a more integrated approach, it may require us to ask for more time to get some of these projects done and in the ground and then see how effective they are,” Parrott says.
If it all plays out, the ongoing maintenance required by the green approach could be good for the local economy, according to Parrott: “With the green and sustainable infrastructure, you’re creating a new class of what we call green jobs for maintenance. The majority of those jobs are something local folks can do as opposed to the conventional process.” Additionally, the green jobs also tend to benefit “disadvantaged communities” more than conventional jobs, according to Parrott.
The argument is essentially what Jeremy Hays, chief strategist for state and local initiatives at Green For All, told CityBeat on Wednesday. Since the green jobs require less education and training, they’re more accessible to “disadvantaged workers,” according to Hays: “They require some training and some skills, but not four years’ worth because it’s skills that you can get at a community college or even on the job.”
While MSD fully encourages the use of rain barrels, recycling will not be a top priority for MSD’s programs. Instead, that priority goes to the Rainwater Harvesting Task Force, a City Council task force intended to find ways to reform the city’s plumbing code to make harvesting and recycling rainwater a possibility.
Bob Knight, a member of the task force, says there is already a model in place the city can use. The task force is looking into adopting the International Green Construction Code (IGCC) in Cincinnati. The code will “prescriptively tell” architects and engineers how to design a rainwater harvesting system. In other words, IGCC would set a standard for the city.
Deciding on this code was not without challenges. At first, the task force wasn’t even sure if it could dictate how rainwater is harvested and recycled. The first question Knight had to ask was, “Who has that authority?” What it found is a mix of local agencies — Greater Cincinnati Water Works, MSD and Cincinnati Department of Planning — will all have to work together to implement the city’s new code.
The task force hopes to give its findings to Quality of Life Committee, which is led by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, by the end of November.
In-person early voting is underway in Ohio. Find your nearest polling booth here.
The final debate for Ohio’s U.S. Senate seat is tonight. Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown and Republican challenger Josh Mandel will meet in Cincinnati to continue a feisty exchange of ideas and sometimes insults. In the last debate, the candidates drew sharp contrasts on policy, which CityBeat covered in-depth here. The final debate will be tonight at 7 p.m. on all Ohio NBC news stations, including WLWT.com. In aggregate polling, Brown is currently up 5.2 points against Mandel.
Want to see what a biased headline from a local newspaper looks like? Here you go, from Business Courier:
Romney win would boost economy, economist says. Strangely enough, the article says re-electing President Barack Obama could also lift the economy, which makes the misleading headline even worse. Unfortunately for the newspaper, Obama is currently leading by 2.1 points in
Ohio against Mitt Romney, and the state will play a pivotal role in the
election. Romney is leading by 0.6 points nationally.
A group is trying to convince Cincinnatians to vote no on Issue 4. The initiative, which is on 2012’s ballot, would extend City Council terms from two to four years. Supporters of Issue 4 say it lets City Council focus more on passing laws and less on campaigning, but opponents say it makes it more difficult to hold City Council accountable.
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Robert Cupp is distancing himself from a TV ad put out by the Ohio Republican Party that depicts his Democratic opponent, William O’Neill, as sympathetic to rapists. Liberal blog Plunderbund called the ad “tone deaf,” referencing recent instances of Republican senatorial candidates turning rape into a legitimate issue. The Republican Senate candidate for Indiana, Richard Mourdock, recently said during a debate, “I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” Previously, the Republican Senate candidate for Missouri, Todd Akin, told reporters when discussing pregnancy caused by rape, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
CityBeat looked at some of the benefits and downsides of green water infrastructure yesterday. Basically, it’s going to produce more jobs and economic growth, but it’s going to require long-term commitment and education. Later today, CityBeat will be talking to some city officials of how that green infrastructure can be adopted in Cincinnati.
Hamilton County’s budget is tight, and that means no wage hike for county workers anytime soon, according to Hamilton County Commission President Greg Hartmann.
Gov. John Kasich is taking his time in filling an open Board of Education seat. Rob Nichols, Kasich’s spokesperson, says, “We just want to get the right person.” But state law requires the seat be filled within 30 days, and the seat has been vacant for a month.
An Ohio judge said provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct and polling location must still be counted.
Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble beat Wall Street expectations, easing concerns from skeptical investors.
Huntington National Bank is relaunching its credit card business in a move that will produce 250 new jobs, and Greater Cincinnati is expected to land some of those jobs.
Ohio is getting a little love from Airbus. The aerospace company will be getting more of its parts from Ohio manufacturers. Cincinnati-based GE Aviation is already Airbus’ biggest U.S. supplier.
A new health care report found health providers often
cover up mistakes in fear of retaliation. The report also found health
care has been slow at embracing the “culture of safety.”
Apparently, strict parents raise conservative kids.
Ohioans might not give it much thought outside of paying the water bill, but better water infrastructure can make cities more efficient, healthier and cleaner. That’s why Green For All, a group that promotes clean energy initiatives, is now focusing on cleaner, greener water infrastructure.
A little-known green conference took place in Cincinnati Oct. 15-17. The Urban Water Sustainability Leadership Conference was in town on those three days, and it brought together leaders from around the U.S. to discuss sustainable water programs for cities. The conference mostly focused on policy ideas, success stories and challenges faced by modern water infrastructure.
For Green For All, attending the conference was about establishing one key element that isn’t often associated with water and sewer systems: jobs. Jeremy Hays, chief strategist for state and local initiatives at Green For All, says this was the focus for his organization.
Hays says it’s important for groups promoting better water infrastructure to include the jobs aspect of the equation. To Hays, while it’s certainly important for cities to establish cleaner and more efficient initiatives, it’s also important to get people back to work. He worries this side of water infrastructure policies are “often left out.”
He points to a report released by Green For All during last year’s conference. The report looked at how investing the $188.4 billion suggested by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to manage rainwater and preserve water quality in the U.S. would translate into economic development and jobs: “We find that an investment of $188.4 billion spread equally over the next five years would generate $265.6 billion in economic activity and create close to 1.9 million jobs.”
To accomplish that robust growth and job development, the report claims infrastructure would have to mimic “natural solutions.” It would focus on green roofs, which are rooftop areas with planted vegetation; urban tree planting; rain gardens, which are areas that use vegetation to reduce storm water runoff; bioswales, which are shallow, vegetated depressions that catch rainwater and redirect it; constructed wetlands; permeable pavements, which are special pavements that allow water to pass through more easily; rainwater harvesting, which uses rain barrels and other storage devices to collect and recycle rainwater; and green alleys, which reduce paved or impervious surfaces with vegetation that reduces storm water runoff.
The report says constructing and maintaining these sorts of programs would produce massive growth, especially in comparison to other programs already supported by presidential candidates and the federal government: “Infrastructure investments create over 16 percent more jobs dollar-for-dollar than a payroll tax holiday, nearly 40 percent more jobs than an across-the-board tax cut, and over five times as many jobs as temporary business tax cuts.”
Hays says the jobs created also don’t have barriers that keep them inaccessible to what he calls “disadvantaged workers”: “A lot of these jobs that we’re focused on in infrastructure, especially green infrastructure, are much more accessible. They require some training and some skills, but not four years’ worth because it’s skills that you can get at a community college or even on the job.”
Beyond jobs, Green For All supports greener infrastructure due to its health benefits. Hays cited heat waves as one example. He says the extra plants and vegetation planted to support green infrastructure can help absorb heat that’s typically contained by cities.
Hays’ example has a lot of science to stand on. The extra heating effect in cities, known as the urban heat island effect, is caused because cities have more buildings and pavements that absorb and contain heat, more pollution that warms the air and fewer plants that enable evaporation and transpiration through a process called evapotranspiration. The EPA promotes green roofs in order to help combat the urban heat island effect.
Hays says green infrastructure also creates cleaner air because trees capture carbon dioxide and break it down to oxygen. The work of the extra trees can also help reduce global warming, although Hays cautions that the ultimate effect is probably “relatively small.”
But those are only some of the advantages Hays sees in green infrastructure. He says green infrastructure is more resilient against volatile weather events caused by global warming. With green infrastructure, storm water can be managed by systems that collect and actually utilize rainwater to harvest clean water. Even in a world without climate change, that storm water management also reduces water contamination by reducing sewer overflow caused by storm water floods, according to Hays.
However, green infrastructure is not without its problems. Hays acknowledges there are some problems with infrastructure systems that require more year-over-year maintenance: “The green and conventional approach is more cost effective over time, but the way you have to spend money is different. So we need to look at the way we finance infrastructure, and make sure we keep up with innovative technologies.”
Specifically, green infrastructure relies less on big capital investments and more on ongoing maintenance costs. Hays insists the green infrastructure saves money in the long term with efficiency and by making more use out of natural resources, and the Green For All report supports his claim. But it is more difficult to get a city or state legislator to support long-term funding than it is to get them to support big capital expenditures, Hays says.
Education is also a problem. To a lot of people, the green infrastructure on rooftops and other city areas might seem like “pocket parks,” says Hays. But these areas are nothing like parks; they are meant to absorb and collect rainwater. If the public isn’t educated properly, there could be some confusion as to why the supposed “pocket parks” are flooded so often. Providing that education is going to be another big challenge for public officials adopting green infrastructure, according to Hays.
So what, if anything, is Cincinnati doing to adopt these
technologies? In the past, city legislators have looked into rainwater
harvesting systems, but not much information is out there. On Thursday, CityBeat will talk to city officials to see how Cincinnati is moving forward.